Hackers have released the personal information of millions of Ashley Madison users. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this hack will damage both Ashley Madison and its users’ reputations online.

The hack

Ashley Madison is a website which provides married men and women with the means to discretely pursue extramarital relations. Since it was launched in 2001, Ashley Madison has gained a reputation for protecting its membership’s security and anonymity, allowing it to attract 34 million users worldwide – with 1.2 million in the UK alone.

The site’s reputation for protecting its users’ privacy has been called into question. Wired recently reported that a group of hackers called the ‘Impact Team’ posted a 9.7 gigabyte data dump of Ashley Madison information on the dark web. The data dump included the personal information, such as names, email addresses and financial information, of roughly 32 million Ashley Madison users. It also included around 15 million military and government email addresses.

Ashley Madison’s reputation

No matter what happens next, this hack will damage Ashley Madison’s reputation online. This incident has caught the attention of major media outlets, entire social media communities and prominent bloggers. Google sees these parties as reliable sources of information, which means that a search for Ashley Madison on Google will bring up articles related to the hack on the first page of the search.

However, the fact that Ashley Madison broke a promise to its customers means that it could also be sued in court. Charney Lawyers Senior Partner, Ted Charney, recently explained that Avid Life Media (the firm that owns Ashley Madison) was ultimately responsible for the data breach, according to Yahoo News. If affected users choose to take legal action, it will generate more press which will appear on the first page of a search for Ashley Madison on Google.

Degrees of damage

The fact that users are already choosing to take legal action brings us to the next issue. This hack will damage the online reputations of millions of people who signed up to the service, thinking that their personal details would be safeguarded. Yet the degree of damage this hack inflicts on Ashley Madison’s users depends on what happens to the information that was leaked.

If hackers just sell the email addresses for marketing purposes, the damage is fairly small to members. However, if the names and date of births of Ashley Madison users falls into the wrong hands, members might be extorted or blackmailed for money. This could cause irreparable damage to their reputations online, if they don’t have the funds to pay up, not to mention the damage to their lives and the lives of those around them.

Prominent people

Earlier in this article, we revealed that government email addresses were leaked. There were prominent users of Ashley Madison, and their online reputations have been placed at greater risk by this revelation. Their name recognition will ensure that these stories catch the attention of prominent news sources, ensuring news of their membership of ranks for the first page of a search for their names on Google.

Since the hack, there have been a number of news stories which have revealed that various UK MPs were members of the site. This includes married SNP MP for Edinburgh West, Michelle Thomson. Her story caught the attention of the Guardian; their article now ranks of the first page of a Google search for her name, illustrating the hack’s effect on the online reputations of prominent people.

How to protect online privacy

This reminds us that you need to protect your personal information online to safeguard your personal and professional reputation. Here are some tips that’ll help you do so:

  • Protect your password: Your password is the gateway to your personal information; if you don’t protect it, your details are vulnerable. You should always pick passwords that contain numbers, letters (upper and lower case), and symbols. We’d suggest you invest in a password generation system, such as LastPass, for ultimate security.
  • Check privacy settings: Social media sites have specific settings which allow you to safeguard your personal information. Check social media privacy settings regularly and make your profiles private, to limit the number of people who have access to your personal information.
  • Create a persona: It’s not always possible, but sometimes you can create a persona online. You should do this, as without your real name it’s far harder for hackers to identify you as someone to target. An Independent article recently pointed out that this has become an increasingly popular safeguard in gaming.
  • Avoid unknowns: If someone you don’t know is trying to connect with you on social media, don’t accept their request. If you don’t know them, they could be anybody; they could be a hacker who’s looking for a way to steal your personal information online.
  • Update your antivirus: The antivirus programme on your computer safeguards it from programmes which give hackers access to your information. Update it regularly, so your antivirus can make the changes it needs to ensure it can continue to safeguard your privacy online from hackers.
  • Use secure Wi-Fi: When people are out and about they access insecure Wi-Fi to get on the internet. This is a mistake; you should always use a secure Wi-Fi network because if you don’t, you make it easier for hackers to breach your privacy measures.

Online reputation management

In some cases, you may not be able to protect your online privacy. If this happens, you can use online reputation management services to ensure that a data breach doesn’t damage your personal and professional reputation online.

If you want to find out more about Igniyte’s online reputation management services please contact Simon Wadsworth on tel: +44 (0) 2035428686  or email simon@igniyte.com in confidence.

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